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Regional Report: Plavsic Sentence Divides Bosnia

Former Bosnian Serb president’s guilty plea and subsequent jailing may not be enough to promote reconciliation.
By Amra Kebo

The eleven-year prison sentence handed down to former Bosnian Serb president Biljana Plavsic by The Hague tribunal last week has angered many Croats and Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims).

Bosnian Serbs, meanwhile, have also railed against the sentence, but claimed that it was too severe.

Relatives of Plavisic’s victims were unhappy that seven counts – including one of genocide – were dropped after the 72-year-old pleaded guilty to one charge of crimes against humanity.

Plavsic, a former high-ranking Republika Srpska, RS, official, pleaded guilty late last year to crimes committed by the Serb troops in 37 Bosnian municipalities.

Members of an association representing female survivors of the enclaves of Srebrencia and Zepa devastated by the Serbs said the sentence was too light. Hague prosecutors had asked for 15 to 25 years.

"We, the families, find it ridiculous that some mitigating circumstances were taken into account in Plavsic’s case,” said Kada Hodzic, deputy head of the association.

“Plavsic wasn’t so sympathetic when she issued orders that resulted in women, children and elderly people being killed.”

The president of the federal committee for the missing, Amor Masovic, said Plavsic will spend just two and a half minutes in prison for every one of her 200,000 Bosniak and Croat victims.

"I just wonder how the victims of the Nazis during the Second World War would have reacted if Hitler, Goebbels or Goering had been brought before a court and sentenced to 11 years in prison,” he said.

Masovic doubts that Plavsic has any remorse, arguing that she has refused to testify in other cases.

While others were also critical over the length of the sentence, some felt it nonetheless highlighted the magnitude of Serb crimes.

Sulejman Tihic, Bosniak member of the Bosnian presidency and leader of the Party of Democratic Action, SDA, who was detained in Serb camps where thousands died, said, "This sentence confirms Republika Srpksa was based on crime and proves that aggression and genocide had been committed against the Bosniaks.”

Tihic also described Plavsic’s guilty plea as “a highly moral act” which helps establish the truth about the kind of war that took place.

Bosnian Serbs, predictably, were highly critical of the jail term handed down to Plavisc. Mirko Sarovic, a member of the Serbian Democratic Party, and Bosnian presidency chairman, described it as “too severe”, saying it wasn’t much of a reward for cooperating with the tribunal.

Plavsic’s close associate Milorad Dodik, leader of the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats, agreed.

"The sentence is unjustifiably harsh,” he said “Plavsic has been sentenced to 11 years in prison while [former Bosnian president] Alija Izetbegovic, who is responsible for war casualties in Bosnia-Hercegovina, is not held accountable.”

But some acknowledged that Plavsic’s cooperation was reflected in the length of sentence. “It is obvious that her cooperation with The Hague over these past few months helped her get an obviously milder sentence for the grave crimes that she had pleaded guilty to,” said Socialist Party leader Petar Djokic

Given the mixed reactions, it’s no surprise that many are sceptical

Plavsic’s sentence – and her admission of guilt – will advance the cause of reconciliation.

A biology professor at Sarajevo University before the war, Plavsic appeared on the Bosnian political scene for the first time prior to the first multi-party elections held in November 1990. Two years later, just before fighting broke out, she was involved the establishment of RS, together with other SDS members.

In May 1992, she became a member of the entity’s presidency.

She left this post in 1996, and quit SDS the following year, saying she was sick of corruption.

Round about this time, Plavsic received strong backing from the West. In 1997 she founded her own party, the Serbian National Alliance, SNS, and joined a coalition, which established supremacy over the SDS in the RS parliament in that year’s elections.

Amra Kebo is a commentator for the Sarajevo daily Oslobodjenje.